The university has a legal duty to insure that official web sites, official email, and other official communications and expressions do not violate the intellectual property rights of third parties. The most common intellectual property rights found on the Internet involve copyright and trademark/service marks.
“Official” web sites and communications include those which are funded or otherwise sponsored by the university for a university purpose, or which are created by an employee or agent of the university who is acting within the authorized scope of employment or agency on behalf of the university (e.g., posting course materials on the web for educational use of enrolled students).
The university has “notice” of possible infringement when a third party advises a university official that there is an infringement, or when it appears to a university official that material is likely to be infringing based on the circumstances (e.g., copies of nationally syndicated cartoons appear on a university web site without any statement of copyright permission).
When the university has notice of a possible intellectual property infringement in official university-provided content, it will in good faith:
- Attempt to establish who truly owns the copyright (or other intellectual property) through consultation with the author of the university content and the party claiming ownership.
- Attempt to determine if any legal defense (e.g., “fair use”) exists to allow the material to be used by the university.
- Attempt to negotiate a permission or settlement if it appears that the content is infringing or if it appears that settlement is preferable to litigating an unclear claim. If permission or settlement is not feasible and it appears that the material is infringing, the university will remove the material.
- Determine if any disciplinary action is appropriate against the person who posted infringing content. In the case of repeated infringement or bad faith infringement, disciplinary sanctions may include termination of computer privileges. Anyone subject to termination of privileges will be afforded the procedural protections in the Administrative Regulation on Computer Use, or the disciplinary process that is used, whichever is applicable.
NC State University has the twin objectives of minimizing liability while also providing full legal support for the activities of faculty and staff. In the context of copyright and other intellectual property, this means that the NC State Office of General Counsel should be advised as soon as there is any notice of possible infringement. General Counsel will work with the university content provider to establish any defenses. However, if there is inadequate information to provide a defense, or it appears that no defense exists, the best route to minimize university damages may be prompt removal of the allegedly infringing material.
Removal of official university content, especially course materials, can be harmful to academic freedom, to teaching effectiveness, and to the university’s educational mission. Therefore, faculty and staff are encouraged to secure copyright permission, or a license, or a legal basis for use of someone else’s intellectual property without permission, before using the material.